A Church Planter’s Reflections on Titus: (2:15-3:3) Practical Steps and Remembering Who We Were
“Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Titus 2:15-3:3
Paul’s charge to Titus is to “declare these things.” The most obvious reference to “these things” is the previous passage (2:11-14), but it may cover the whole section of 2:1-14, going back to 2:1’s “declare what accords with sound doctrine.” We see here again the authority of the Apostle Paul who calls us to be faithful proclaimers of the gospel. Titus was “to declare these truths and exhort and rebuke with all authority.” While we as church planters and pastors don’t have apostolic authority, God has given us an overseeing/shepherding position that requires us to call people to repent and believe the gospel and seek to live lives worthy of Savior.
Along with declaring gospel truths, Titus was to remind the Cretan believers of specific actions to partake in and avoid as they lived godly lives in the present age. This included submission to earthly authorities and to display a godly demeanor toward all (3:1-2). Again, we see the importance of “good works,” a theme prominent in Titus. As the Cretan believers lived out the imperatives of 2:1-2 they, like the believing slaves mentioned earlier (2:10) adorned the doctrine of God our Savior. Instead of simply going with the flow of the godless culture, the Cretan believers—and us today—were to show that there was a greater king to follow than Caesar or culture. We seek to do this as well: instead of partaking in godless slander, we pray for our enemies or those who disabuse or annoy us; instead of fighting over words and petty secondary issues, we show unity and selfless love toward one another; instead of showing favoritism, we show “perfect courtesy toward everyone,” which is a powerful witness to the unbelieving world.
Paul reminds us that “we ourselves” were once unbelievers (3:3). The terms and imagery of verse 3 are jarring and offensive to the sensibilities of the everyday secular unbeliever today. Paul says that we were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (3:3). (What non-Christian would describe themselves this way?) This list of 6 (7 if you split the last two up) traits is what the world outside of Christ is and what we were before we were converted. Such a truth is in line with the biblical concept of total depravity: before we came to Christ we were sinful in every part of ourselves, spiritually dead in our sin, and unwilling to come to God or walk in the light. This reminder of verse 3, helps us strive to obey the commands of verses 1-2. This happens as Paul reminds us we longer are these things—such a fact—that we are a new creation—motivates and pushes us forward in godliness. We can say to our sinful passions, ‘You are dead to me,’ and we can choose to obey God’s will in the power of the Holy Spirit. Another thing that happens as we reflect on verse 3 (‘we once were’) is that we are humbled—we are no better than the lost around us, we are saved completely by grace—and it gives us compassion and love for those around us—they need the gospel too.
Please pray that many in Naperville may also once say, “We once were foolish, disobient, etc…” and that we today recognize the grace God has shown us in the past that changes how we live today.